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The Neuroendocrinology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: New Directions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2014


Studies of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA ) axis in persons with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have produced variable findings. This review focuses on the factors likely to have affected the outcome of these studies, including population characteristics and experimental design. Also discussed is a possible role for the adrenal neurosteroid dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) as a mediator of HPA axis adaptation to extreme stress and the psychiatric symptoms associated with PTSD. The antiglucocorticoid properties of DHEA may contribute to an upregulation of HPA axis responses as well as mitigate possible deleterious effects of high cortisol levels on the brain in some PTSD subpopulations. The neuromodulatory effects of DHEA and its metabolite DHEAS at γ-arninobutyric acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors in the brain may contribute to psychiatric symptoms associated with PTSD. The possible importance of other neurohormone systems in modulating HPA axis and symptom responses to traumatic stress is also discussed. Understanding the complex interactions of these stress-responsive neurosteroid and peptide systems may help explain the variability in patterns of HPA axis adaptation, brain changes, and psychiatric symptoms observed in PTSD and lead to better targeting of preventive and therapeutic interventions.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003

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